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Posts Tagged ‘book reviewing’

Join the Street Team and Get Free Books!

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With some new projects coming down the pipeline, I wanted to open up the doors on my street team and invite all readers to join. What does a street team do? Well, they read an author’s newest works and post reviews of them at places like Amazon and Goodreads, or even on their personal blogs. The purpose is to help the author get the word out about their newest works, so if you enjoy a particular author’s work and want to encourage them to produce more of that work you love, one way you can help is by joining their street team. You get free books, often before they’re available to the general public, so that’s awesome, right?

Different authors have different requirements and expectations of street team members, but I’m going the no-commitment route at this point. You can chose what ARCs to receive based on your personal tastes and time availability, and whether or not you wish to review. I hope you will, but I won’t require it.

If you’re interested in joining, mosey on over here and join the mailing list.

On the Importance of Reviews for Authors

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You’ve probably seen writers asking their readers to leave reviews of their work at places like Amazon or Goodreads; if you read any self-published stuff, you’ve undoubtedly seen the call-to-action that is almost always at the end of any ebook: “Please take the time to leave a review of this book wherever you bought it.” It might seem annoying, all of this begging for extra attention from the reader, particularly if you’re not one to do reviews. It might even seem crass to ask at all.

But the brutal truth is that reviews are an absolutely necessary part of the business. Writing is a business, and as such, authors have to treat it as one. Reviews are especially important to new writers, who don’t have selling-power connected to their name yet, and thus can easily find themselves languishing in obscurity not because they’ve written a bad book but because few people take a chance on them because their book has few to zero reviews at the vendor. I know that I, for example, am much more likely to turn away from a book if it has zero or only one or two reviews, even if it’s free (and I’m particularly suspicious if all of the reviews are 5 star ones). A book that never gets read never gets reviewed, and so in turn continues to not get read; a vicious circle.

But this circle is even more never-ending. One of the best ways to reach a larger audience that just doesn’t yet know a specific book exists is for author to get a promotional ad with places like Bookbub. Some of you may be familiar with BB, but for those who aren’t, it’s a daily advertising burst, telling its tens of thousands of subscribers about books that are deeply discounted or free. Bookbub gets an author’s book in front of that many people each day, and while I’ve seen some authors who say their ad only got them to the break-even point of sales, I’ve never heard of anyone taking a substantial financial loss on an ad (the ads have to be paid for, and they aren’t cheap by any means). In fact most folks I’ve seen report profits on their ads, which means literally thousands of downloads in a single day. That’s a newer author’s dream-come-true (and even for some of us less-newer authors who are quite obscure). But here’s the deal: while BB will look at practically any book for consideration, they have limited space in their daily emails, and so the number of reviews a title has plays a really big part in whether or not they will seriously consider a given book. A title with only a dozen reviews stands practically no chance when it’s going up against a title with hundreds of reviews, or even fifty. BB’s audience is looking for good books, and BB relies on reviews and average rating at retailers to determine what will appeal to their audience. And competition is fierce (only 20% of submissions get accepted for promotion.). So those who could really benefit from a BB ad aren’t able to get it because of the lack of reviews, because of the lack of exposure. The circle continues.

So authors aren’t just asking you to leave reviews for ego reasons; there’s solid business reasons for asking for those reviews. As much as we’d all like to think that books are all about the art, they are also about the business; they cost not just time to produce, but money as well; cover artists and editors must be paid. And so does the author, regardless of whether they’re traditionally published or they are publishing themselves. Bills must be paid in order for the stories to be produced. The two things reader can do to help authors continue producing quality work is to first buy their work, and then also leave honest feedback (either positive or negative) at the point-of-sale. Even a negative review has its place and usefulness; personally, the first thing I look at on any product I haven’t already committed to buying is to look at the lowest ratings, to determine if there’s an actual problem (like poor editing or quality issues). Sometimes the low ranking are written by idiots who blame a completely unrelated issue on the product itself (“the seller sent me a copy with the cover bent, so one star!”), but sometimes low ratings have actually convinced me to buy a book, because the things that reader was ranting about are thinks I really like.

Help out the literary ecosystem by leaving reviews of the books you read. It can be as simple as a one or two sentence review stating why you liked or didn’t like a book, or it can be a long, detailed gush or rant. Just let folks know what you think. And always be honest. Authors and your fellow readers will thank you for it!

Review: Out of the Shadows by Gabriella Hewitt

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Title: Out of the Shadows

Author: Gabriella Hewitt

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pub Date: 2011

68 pages

My rating: 3 stars

Genre: paranormal romance

From the back cover:

When the last shadow warrior falls, so will all humanity.

With each demon he vanquishes in service to the Aztec sun god, Tomás fulfills his duty to defend humankind—and surrenders another piece of his humanity to his wolf spirit. All hope seems lost until a mission leads him to the door of the one thing he thought he’d never find…his spirit mate. The only woman who can save him from oblivion.

When Carolina hears the wolf’s howl, it pierces the very core of her lonely heart. Yet she dare not answer. As the last guardian of her land and the secret it contains, she is haunted by the mistake that cost the lives of her family. Never will she repeat that mistake, especially with a warrior who is more beast than man.

Chasing away the demon is easier than breaching the barriers around the heart of the young woman who possesses a strange power over water—and his very soul. But if they are to survive the night, he must convince her they are destined to stand together.

Or not at all.

I actually enjoyed this book more than I expected going into it, because I’m not really a fan of either urban fantasy or paranormal romance (I’m more into historical romance), but being a fanatic of all things Aztec–and really wishing I could find any Aztec romance that doesn’t involve modern white girl traveling to ancient past via a cursed object–I couldn’t not give this a try. And in the end I enjoyed the story, though I also found it frustrating on several levels.

I love love love that the author didn’t shy away from using the actual Nahuatl names of the gods (Chalchiuhtlicue gets shortened to Chicha, though given that it took me a couple tries to actually pronounce the Nahuatl one, I don’t consider this a bad decision). I loved that the Tzitzimime play an important role, and the author uses the proper name for the obsidian bladed sword.

But then at other times, the author leans back on Western-Christian ways of talking about concepts; there is no Hell in Aztec theology, not in the way it’s used here anyway; there are places of fire in Mictlan–the Aztec underworld–and there was no reason that specific allusion couldn’t have been used in place of Hell, especially given the POV character that allusion was coming from.

Tomás himself is my biggest disappointment in all of this. He appears to be a stock American Indian werewolf/shapeshifter character with some Aztec trappings glued on in places, but not glued very well. The fact that his spirit animal (which I kept wanting the author to call a nahual instead of spirit animal because the Aztecs had a name for the concept) was a wolf made little sense within the mythological context; the wolf is not a particularly revered animal in Aztec mythology. One assumes Tomás was a warrior in real life, before becoming a shadow warrior, presumably a jaguar warrior, so why isn’t his spirit animal a jaguar? The were-jaguar is a traditional shapeshifter in Aztec mythology. Also, hummingbirds, not wolves were associated with his chosen god. A were-hummingbird would have been cool…hmmmm. I was also highly puzzled about why Tomás had a Spanish name, given that he lived during the Aztec empire. An explanation of why he took a Spanish name would have sufficed, though given his devotion to Huitzilopochtli, I have trouble believing he’d accept a name thrust upon him by his people’s oppressors.

And finally, it irked me to no end that both Carolina and Tomás referred to their people as Aztec instead of Mexica; Aztec is a modern, Western name, not the name the people of Tenochtitlan gave themselves, so I have real trouble with the idea of either Tomás or Carolina embracing it. Tomás lived during the empire, and Carolina was raised in a family that cared about the old gods and traditions for centuries, since the Spanish Conquest. They would use Mexica, not Aztec, just on principle alone.

There were some minor alpha male things that bugged me about Tomás, but he wasn’t so jerky that I couldn’t sympathize with him and want him to succeed. Carolina is a nice, strong character, and I really liked that she’s the one who saves him–saves them all–in the end. The tenderness between Huitzilopochtli and Chalchiuhtlicue was touching, and I wouldn’t mind seeing a story with them as protagonists. I would have liked to have known more about the trap Billy set to kill Carolina’s parents, but he was a good, sinister character. The fire serpent was way cool, and the battle scene was engrossing. Once I let go of the disappointment over the authenticity, it was an enjoyable story and I plan to read the next book, to see where the author is taking this universe.

While I am kind of hard on the story when it comes to the mythological and historical elements, I do want to applaud the author for taking on the challenge of presenting a story outside the more popular motifs of paranormal romance and telling the stories of POC. Romance in particular tends very heavily to white protagonists, so having not only a Latina heroine but also an indigenous hero is very welcome.

Review: Five Dances with Death by Austin Briggs

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I’m on a quest to read as much Aztec-related fiction as I can find, to get a feel for what other authors have done and learn a bit–to help me in my own writing–and since much of it doesn’t get a whole lot of attention, I’d like to start reviewing these works I read on the blog. I’d like to do one a month if possible, and if you know of any books you’d like to see reviewed, drop me a line–even if its your own book (though I’ll make no promises to review it). To get started, I’m going to reprint some reviews I’ve already posted on Goodreads.

Mostly I will focused on how well authors use the source materials of the mythology and history versus stereotype, but writing style and skill will be addressed as well when necessary; after all, poor writing can kill even the most intriguing of ideas. I’m not making distinctions between traditionally-published books and self-published ones; I’ll read either kind.

So, without further ado, onto the review!

Five Dances with Death

Title: Five Dances With Death

Author: Austin Briggs

Publisher: Helvetica House (sp)

Pub Date: 2011

258 pages

My rating:  5 stars

Genre: historical fantasy

From the back cover:

In the days before the Conquistadors, Xicotencatl (Angry Wasp) is fighting to keep his family and his small Aztec nation alive.

Slavers have kidnapped his daughter. His wife has turned to powerful sorcery. His people have challenged Montezuma’s dominance and now face extinction. And the Spaniards have begun their march inland.

Now Wasp must rely on his military prowess, wit and even dark magic to regain his family and protect the independence of his nation, as he begins a desperate journey that will forever change the fate of the Aztec people.

I wasn’t expecting much going into this, with it being self-published and all, but I was very pleasantly surprised. I don’t have much trust in the quality of self-published stuff, but I’m willing to give anything about Aztec history and mythology a chance, so I downloaded a sample to see if it was something I could like. The writing style and pacing convinced me to buy. And I ended up quite enthralled with it.

Really, there’s isn’t much to not like about this book. The research shines through elegantly and is rarely delivered in clunky ways; it pretty much blends seamlessly in with the story. I wasn’t overly fond of Angry Wasp in the beginning and there are some inconsistencies with his character (like him having no concept of rape as a tool of power…yeah, not buying that. He’s a man of power who’s fought in many wars and seen horrible things. Him not agreeing with its use, yes, but not realizing it could be used that way, no.), but he grew on me after a while. At no point did I feel bored with the story and was disappointed that there was no more for me to read once I got to the end.

I would have preferred the author use the actual Nahuatl names for the cities and the historical characters, such as Moctezuma the Younger and Cuauhtemoc, but being familiar with the names, it’s just a personal preference. I would have also have preferred to get the full 5 parts in one book rather than broken up, since this really isn’t a very long novel, and if each part is a similar length, it’s still nowhere near as long as Aztec. It does break at a good point though, and I will be looking for the rest of the installments.

Finally, the author calls this a “paranormal”, but I think it’s closer to fantasy than paranormal. The magic is concrete with rules governing it, and it’s taken as matter-of-fact and accepted in the culture as portrayed. And Angry Wasp uses it a lot and gets himself in trouble with it. And the god Tezcatlipoca is an actual character in the book. It might be nitpicking, but it’s the difference between say X-Files (paranormal) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (fantasy). I don’t mind that it’s more fantasy than paranormal, since I love fantasy and am more inclined towards it than paranormal, so the fantasy elements didn’t in any way impeded my enjoyment of the book. If anything they enhanced it.

Note: the author was planning four more installments when I first read this, but in the three years since then, there’s been no movement on that front. Readers should be aware that this is not a complete story, so it might not appeal to those who are wary of incomplete series. I’m still hopeful that Briggs will continue the series at some point in time.